A rainy Thursday didn’t keep interested residents from showing up to a public engagement meeting to discuss the coastal watershed at Gulf State Park’s Learning Center Campus.
“Seems like there’s a lot of good community engagement and people that are really interested in their area,” environmental scientist Mollie Taylor said. “This is the first big step to reach out to the community.”
Taylor works with Geosyntec, which is gathering information on the conditions and needs of watersheds throughout Mobile and Baldwin counties with an eye on $20 million of Restore Act money slated to be released in the next few years. It is earmarked for watershed projects and research.
“We’re just making sure we’ve gathered all the right information early on and start identifying projects so when that funding does start to flow, we’re ready to start assigning that funding to different projects,” Taylor said.
On Feb. 6, the focus was on the watershed in the Gulf-front area from Perdido Pass to the tip of the Fort Morgan peninsula.
“The way we organized the meeting, we had everybody kind of break out into smaller groups and talk about the strengths that they saw in the watershed,” Taylor said. “The things that they thought were going really well in the area and things that they thought should be preserved.”
Several positives were identified, but a few stood out in the eyes of Taylor and others involved in conducting the meeting.
“We have a good bit of large protected land through the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge and Gulf State Park,” Taylor said. “That’s a really good thing that we have going on. They also encourage ecotourism and have a lot of habitat and species biodiversity. So, those are some of the things that popped out as going right in the watershed and what should be projected. I thought that was really interesting.” Residents next pointed out areas they thought needed improvements and possibly rehabilitation projects.
“The weaknesses that we saw or the things that were kind of negative trends that we were seeing,” Taylor said. “The biggest things that I kind of picked up on were invasive species, increased traffic due to peak tourism season and lack of enforcement behind environmental regulations.”
Many more issues were raised, Taylor said, but those were the major issues brought up by the residents.
“There were a lot more and we probably wrote down at least 50 different strengths and 50 different weaknesses, but those are just some of the few that really popped out in my mind,” she said.
The information gathered is a starting point for Geosyntec’s work on the massive watershed evaluation process.
“What we did after that we started to identify some of the opportunities that we could to help fix some of these weaknesses and continue to preserve some of those strengths,” Taylor said. “The idea is that once we kind of gather those opportunities when we’re writing the plan, we can help develop an implementation strategy and a prioritized list of projects that will help with the funding at the end.”
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